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Sensors have become a part of our daily lives, whether we realize it or not. They’ve taken over our homes (hello, Alexa), our cars, our jobs and cities. They’ve turned our mundane tasks into “smart” living. But what do you really know about sensors and their automation capabilities?

What is a Sensor?Let’s start out by defining a sensor. Simply stated, a sensor is a device that detects or measures a physical property and records, indicates or responds to it by transmitting a resulting impulse. It converts a physical specification (such as temperature, speed, distance etc.) into a signal which can be electrically recorded.

Sensors have been around for decades, but recent IoT solutions have boosted their popularity and need for more sophisticated and technologically-loaded sensors. Sensors today must encompass the ability to communicate with other sensors and platforms within an entire ‘sensor ecosystem’. The role of the sensor is extremely important in the overall IoT picture.

The number and variety of sensors that gather information to be measured and analyzed is growing significantly, especially with the rise of automation. For this reason, most types of sensors fall under a sensor classification system.

Classification of SensorsSensors can be ranked into various classification systems, but for the sake of simplification, we have divided them into 5 core classifications.

  1. Active and Passive Sensors
    • Active Sensors (also known as parametric sensors) are sensors that require an external power source to operate. Examples of active sensors include GPS sensors and radar sensors.
    • Passive Sensors (also called self-generated sensors) generate their own electric signal and do not require any external power source. Examples of passive sensors include thermal sensors, electric field sensing and metal detecting.
  2. Contact and Non-Contact Sensors
    • Contact Sensors are those that require a physical contact with their stimulus. Familiar examples of contact sensors are temperature and strain gauge sensors.
    • Non-Contact Sensors, on the other hand, require no physical contact. These types of sensors include optical and magnetic sensors, as well as infrared thermometers.
  3. Absolute and Relative Sensors
    • Absolute Sensors mimic its name by providing an absolute reading of its stimulus. For example, a thermistor always measures the exact, or absolute, temperature reading.
    • Relative Sensors provide measurement to a fixed or variable measurement. An example of a relative sensor would be a thermocouple, where the temperature difference is measured, not the actual temperature.
  4. Analog and Digital Sensors
    • Analog Sensors produce continuous analog output signals, proportional to its measurement. A few examples of analog sensors are: accelerometers, pressure sensors, light and sound sensors.
    • Digital Sensors (also known as electronic or electrochemical sensors) convert the data transmission, digitally. Examples include digital accelerometers, pressure and temperature sensors.
  5. Miscellaneous Sensors
    • Of course, there are plenty of other types of sensors in the field and they would fall under the ‘other’ or miscellaneous category. These include electric, biological, chemical,  radioactive and more.

Sensors, Sensors EverywhereAs you can see, within the 5 classifications for sensors, there can be thousands of sensors available to choose from, ranging from the more common to the extremely rare.

The most common sensors are typically used for measuring physical properties such as temperature, heat, conduction etc. Here are a few examples of these commonly used sensors:

  • Temperature Sensor
  • CO2 Sensor
  • Proximity Sensor
  • Accelerometer
  • IR Sensor (Infrared Sensor)
  • Pressure Sensor
  • Light Sensor
  • Smoke, Gas and Alcohol Sensor
  • Touch Sensor

IoT Bundles to the RescueExamining each type and classification of sensor can be an overwhelming process, especially when it comes to choosing which sensors your business needs. It can be a hodge-podge of confusion, but IoT bundles take the fear and uncertainty out of the equation. Stay tuned for the next blog post where we dive deeper into IoT bundles, discuss what is out there, and the benefits of these for companies today.